tv Studio 1.0 Bloomberg November 7, 2015 4:30am-5:01am EST
emily: he is the provocateur behind some of the big ideas of our time. a creator of a sort of pop science. an unofficial, but incredibly influential set of laws that govern human behavior. between five "new york times" bestsellers and two decades at "the new yorker," malcolm gladwell has inspired, inflamed, and perplexed the most critical of readers. joining me on "studio 1.0," author, journalist, and thought-provoker, malcolm gladwell. thank you so much for being here, it's really great to have you. in your latest book, "david and goliath," your argument is disadvantages can become advantages and create
opportunities. you speak with cancer researchers, teachers, civil rights leaders. what can a tech ceo take from this message, take from this book? malcolm: adversity is the best teacher, in other words, it is a more efficient -- overcoming disadvantages can be a more efficient way of learning crucial skills than applying advantages. for those willing to face up to the challenge, adversity is this extraordinarily powerful teaching tool. it is a faster way to get from a to b than coming to the table with all kinds of advantages in hand. emily: who do you see as the davids and goliaths in technology? is it start-ups versus apple, amazon, google, and facebook? malcolm: what is fascinating about silicon valley is how quickly companies transition from being underdogs to goliaths. we are used to the trajectory of -- microsoft starts and it takes
them 15 years to go from the upstart to the monolith. today, i feel like it was a matter of a couple of years -- facebook went from nowhere to being a dominant player. this kind of trajectory where people go from being at a perceived disadvantage to being suddenly saddled with all of the attributes of the goliath. now it has been sped up. emily: the amazon-hachette war, you are published by hachette, you and your books got caught in the middle. how do you feel about this? malcolm: it cost me a lot of money. that's for sure. it breaks my heart a little. i had thought of amazon as in partnership with writers. and for a company to try to make a business point by turning its back on -- i have sold, through amazon, millions of books.
i have contributed mightily to their bottom line. i would've thought they would see me as an asset. me and other writers have brought people to their site in droves. and now they have turned on us. it is, to say the least, a puzzling strategy for a business to turn on its assets. i would love to have a conversation with jeff bezos about the self-destructive nature of this particular strategy. emily: amazon is arguing that books must be cheaper in this environment where there are so many media distractions. do you have any sympathy for their argument? malcolm: complete sympathy for it. i just don't understand why, in order to get to that preferred outcome, they have chosen to screw over the people who bring revenue to their business and
customers to their site. emily: do you need a traditional publisher for your next book? is there another way? malcolm: is this an industry that is going to be disrupted, the answer is absolutely. will i have the same arrangement for my next book that i had for this one? unlikely. but then, the arrangement i had for "david and goliath" is better than the arrangment i had for books that came before it. i can imagine a world without traditional publishers. i cannot imagine a world without traditional bookstores. what i would like to see is a revision of the publishing environment in a way that ensures the continued success of the physical bookstore. emily: some writers say they have lost 80%, 90% of their earning. you said it has impacted your sales. how much? malcolm: it's a lot. emily: you were born in england, the son of a math professor and
a therapist. how did they influence you? malcolm: if you think about my father, represents the analytical side, and my mother represents the side of psychology, my work is an attempt to fuse those things. so i am my parent's child. emily: where did this penchant to think critically, to think differently, where did that come from? malcolm: well, i was a bored child. [laughter] malcolm: i was growing up in the middle of nowhere. i had very little to do. we didn't have a television. all my friends lived miles away. i had a lot of time on my hands, and i think that's probably where it all began. i was forced to kind of, you know, imagine worlds for myself because my everyday environment wasn't terribly compelling. emily: you studied history at the university of toronto. and then you moved to the united states. what was your first job? what were you writing about in your early days? malcolm: i got a job at a little magazine in bloomington,
indiana, right out of college. i only lasted -- i was fired after about four months. emily: for doing what? malcolm: for -- basically, for sleeping in. i moved to washington, d.c. and kind of freelanced, essentially. did a variety of odd jobs for a while and finally caught on with "the washington post." it was very serendipitous. i never had any plan. everything was a lucky break. or a random choice. emily: surely a job at the "new yorker" is not a lucky break? that's the result of some pretty hard work. malcolm: the "new yorker" was still a lucky break. you know, i think one of the mistakes we all make, when we look back on our lives, is we tend to we overestimate our own qualifications and choices and underestimate the role of simple good fortune. emily: have you evolved your conclusions? have you changed? malcolm: you still believe the same thing you believed 15 years ago, then you are a joke. you are a fossil. ♪ emily: there are myths about
some of the greatest creators and innovators that are so often boiled down into legend. what is the myth of malcolm gladwell, and what is the reality? malcolm: i don't think i have arrived at the level of myth. i am just about as boring and pedestrian in my life as i appear to be -- in my private life as i appear to be in my public life. emily: "the tipping point" was your first best-selling book. you said you had no idea how big it would become. looking back, do you understand why it did? malcolm: i don't. my books and books of many other people caught a specific wave, i think, over the last 20 years. which is, there was this emerging class of businessperson
-- not exclusively businesspersons -- demanding a higher level of sophistication in thinking about business in the world. i was part of that wave. but why my book was chosen above, instead of others, i have no -- the whole thing is as mysterious to me today as it was when the book came out. i haven't read it in 20 years, 15 years. i have no idea how it stands up. emily: you went on to write four more books, all bestsellers. "blink," "outliers," "what the dog saw," "david and goliath." so many of your ideas have been widely implemented, widely debated. have you evolved your conclusions? have you changed? malcolm: all the time. if you still believe the same thing you believed 15 years ago, then you are a joke. you are a fossil. there is all kinds of stuff i was once crazy about and now think is kind of incomplete, or juvenile, or immature, or -- emily: like what?
malcolm: there are many cases where you have a responsibility as a thinking person to constantly revisit and revise what you believe. the minute you are unwilling to contradict things you've believed in the past, you've ceased to be a thinking person. emily: would you rewrite all of the books if you could? malcolm: yeah, i mean, sure. if i had the leisure, i would absolutely go back and revisit and reshape and reargue things because we know so much more. you know? emily: has your life adapted based on some of the conclusions that you've drawn? malcolm: a little bit. i was so impressed while writing "blink" about the potential for bias and dysfunction in our snap judgments and first impressions that i very actively try to question my first impression of things. when i meet people, the conclusions i draw about them,
spending time to understand people's behavior from their perspective. emily: one of your chapters that has had great impact is from "outliers," where you present a study of canadian hockey players and the oldest players are the best players. and it has triggered a nationwide phenomenon whereby parents are holding their kids back in school. should they be doing this? malcolm: the observation is that among kids who are 6, 7, 8 years old, the difference between a january kid and a december kid, if they're asked to do a task, is considerable, which makes sense. so parents appropriately have said i don't want my kid disadvantaged in this way. it should never have to come down to parents acting. the school should step up and say in grades one through five, we are going to separate kids by their month of birth. the fact that schools don't do this blows my mind. what are they doing? if you are a parent and you are faced with a school being so dumb about the evidence then, by all means, take action into your
own hands. it doesn't solve the problem though, ultimately, if parent act on their own. emily: my kid is a september kid. when he's around older kids, he's more inspired and more engaged. so what am i to do? malcolm: this observation is most pertinent for kids that have other problems. it is most pertinent for those already facing a series of socioeconomic or cognitive struggles. emily: in "david and goliath," you're arguing a disadvantage can become an advantage, and here you have parents giving their kids an advantage, or potentially an artificial advantage. are those ideas counter to each other? malcolm: no, they are supposed to be in parallel. the idea of "david and goliath" is that our understanding of advantage needs to be much more sophisticated, so that there are clearly occasions when giving someone more resources or removing an obstacle helps them. but there are also occasions when it doesn't. if they were contradictory, i
would be fine with that. we need to get away from the notion that ideas are only interesting when they are fundamentally consistent. wrong. what thoughtful, intelligent people do with their brains, i think, is mull over inconsistencies. it's when two ideas are in conflict, and you have to struggle to make sense of that conflict, that's when thinking starts. right? emily: how do you view the power and the influence that you have over human behavior? over how the public interprets your work? malcolm: i think it's important not to overstate it. i am someone who writes books. i see myself as contributing to, you know, a healthy conversation in our society about how to think about various kinds of problems. but i am not so much of a raging narcissist to think that i am controling that conversation. far from it.
emily: i know you are aware of the criticisms of your books. some people have said, unoriginal, obvious, the story comes first, the science plays a supporting role. overgeneralized, oversimplified to the point you are wrong. how do you respond to that? malcolm: well, most of it i don't really think of them as criticism. the story is first and the science is secondary, because i want the stories to come first. stories are incredibly powerful ways to communicate sophisticated ideas. or are my books simplified? of course they are simplified. they are supposed to be. i spend a huge amount of time simplifying. so, when someone says, as a way of criticism, you're simplifying, i put my head in my hands and say, that is my intention. if i didn't simplify them, then they would -- people wouldn't read them. they would be unreadable. emily: critics say, don't take him so seriously. malcolm: i do not take myself so seriously. i would say exactly right. chill out. ideas are -- they ought to be a
source of joy. to think about something in a new way, even if you find it unconvincing, that is supposed to be something that brings you pleasure. emily: you can write whatever you want at the "new yorker." how do you choose topics? and why do you write essays when you could just write books? malcolm: because i enjoy it. a "new yorker" story is the most demanding literary form. it is much harder to write a "new yorker" story than a book. i have been fascinated with the gm ignition switch controversy although i am very late to the game here, but i don't want to write a book about it. i don't think anyone would read a book about it. but would it be the kernel of a great article? absolutely. emily: we have seen so many brand name journalists start their own companies. vox, buzzfeed. why not do something like that? malcolm: because i would be terrible at it. i have to wake up too early in the morning, there are all kinds of very good reasons for me to steer clear of that.
emily: what about how the nfl has handled some of these domestic violence issues? what is your take on that? malcolm: this is a sport that is living in the past that has no connection, i think, to the realities of the game right now. and no real connection to american society. ♪ emily: one of the subjects you
wrote about is the nfl. you said it will become a ghettoized sport because of concussions, only poor athletes willing to play the game, and that the sport could become obsolete. the nfl is settling with former players. are they doing enough with current players? malcolm: no. i mean, i think the sport is a moral abomination. the nfl did just release that report, actuary's report trying to estimate what percentage of retired players will, may well be in need of some kind of medical assistance and they came
up with a figure of a third. when you watch football on sunday, a third of the players could be incurring an injury that will significantly impact their life. can you point to another industry in america which over the course of doing business maims a third of its employees? this is untenable. we're not talking about people limping at the age of 50. we are talking about brain injuries that are causing horrible, protracted, and premature deaths. the idea that we are paying people to engage in a sport for our own entertainment that causes irreparable damage to themselves is appalling. emily: what about how the nfl has handled some of these domestic violence issues? what is your take on that? malcolm: this is a sport that is living in the past, that has no connection, i think, to the realities of the game. no real connection to american
society. the whole ray rice issue was a microcosm of what's wrong with the nfl. they are completely disconnected from the consequences of this sport they are engaged in. they are socializing young men into a culture of violence. right? and so is it at all surprising that you see the kind of corollary social damage surrounding players that we see? not at all surprising at all. they are off on this 19th century trajectory which is fundamentally out of touch with the rest of us. emily: your friend and podcast partner bill simmons called the commissioner of the nfl a liar with regards to the ray rice incident. espn suspended him. was that the right decision? malcolm: it was totally the wrong decision. if a sports columnist in a podcast can't exercise free
speech -- and by the way, calling him a liar is not like it came out of nowhere. one reasonable conclusion from the whole ray rice saga is that the commissioner of the nfl knew about the existence of the videotape and was lying about it. i'm not saying that that is what he did but it's a reasonable conclusion. you know, i thought that in the course of expressing their opinions, sports columnists are allowed to draw conclusions. apparently not. apparently you get suspended for that. i thought it was an embarrassingly low moment. emily: do you think football still disappears? still goes away? malcolm: i don't see how it doesn't. i think it will start to shrivel up at the high school and college level and then the pro game will eventually wither on the vine. look, boxing was one of the biggest sports in this country in the 1920's and 1930's.
where is it now? emily: what about print media? and the future of longform journalism. does it develop or decline? malcolm: i think we are entering a golden age for media. there is more media of more varieties and more sophistication now than there ever has been in the past. more people reading than ever in the past. we happen to be in a little window of time where we are trying to figure out the new business models for a lot of it. but we will. the "new yorker" is read by more people than it was in the past. so all of this gloom and dooming is a little wrongheaded. the core question is, is there a desire and a demand among the reading public for in-depth journalism? and the answer is, absolutely. emily: how do you make your own work distinctive in this environment? malcolm: i am going to continue to follow my own curiosity and if nobody wants to follow along, that's too bad. i am in this because i enjoy waking up in the morning and learning about new stuff.
and if i have large numbers of people that want to follow me then generally that's wonderful but it's not the reason i do it. i am working on a television show. i have no idea what will come of it. emily: for who? malcolm: yet to be determined. emily: what kind of television show? malcolm: a thriller. a tv kind of series. emily: fiction? malcolm: yes. it has been a fun digression from my normal stuff. emily: you are selling it right now? malcolm: i will probably write another book soon. i am playing with ideas on what i would want the book to be about. and i have a bunch of things i want to write for the "new yorker." same kind of meandering progress, the course i had taken over the last 15 years. emily: i can't wait. thank you so much for joining us on the show. it's really been an honor and a pleasure to have you. malcolm: thank you. ♪
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